How the Boston Marathon Works

Boston Marathon Qualifying

While most marathons around the world have an open registration policy, the Boston Marathon is one of the few that requires its runners to prove they can go the distance. Before you can even register for the Boston Marathon, you have to run a certified marathon in a certain time limit that's determined by your gender and how old you'll be on Marathon Monday. Race organizers give you nearly a year before registration even opens to earn your qualifying time. Of course, if you are one of the world's top runners, you'll be invited to compete in the Boston Marathon. The rest of the world has to qualify.

Athletes with disabilities aren't exempt from qualifying standards either. The push rim wheelchair division has its own age-group qualifying times for men and women. Blind and visually impaired athletes must run a five-hour qualifying marathon regardless of age and gender. Those who have difficulty ambulating have a six-hour qualification time, and racers who have prosthetics, leg braces or crutches must qualify in eight hours.

However, there is a way to compete in the Boston Marathon without qualifying: Run for charity. Each year, the Boston Athletic Association and the John Hancock Company, the race sponsor, offer charitable organizations and non-profits a limited number of slots in the marathon for racers who raise money for charity. If you choose to go this route, you don't have to have a specific qualifying time, per se. However, you do have to agree that you can complete the marathon within six hours. As part of the charity program, you're required to raise a minimum amount of money for your charity, and you must participate in a months-long marathon-training program. It's a win-win for both runners and charities. Runners get to conquer the marathon and help a cause, and charities raise some much-needed cash. In 2010, around 2,150 runners took part in this program, raising over $14 million for their causes. [source: Powers]

Qualifying for the Boston Marathon is just half the battle in terms of registering for the race. Due to the race's limited field of just 25,000 runners, registration fills up quickly. Competitors can register online starting about six months before race day.

Once you make it into the race, what should you expect? Read on to find out more about Marathon Monday.